Dom Flemons – “Blues Jumped a Rabbit”
The final concert of the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrated the release of Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from the Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958–1971, a monumental CD/LP box set and book from Smithsonian Folkways. When we asked Dom Flemons—“the American Songster”—to play a song from the collection, he chose “Blues Jumped a Rabbit,” keeping very close to Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins’s previously unreleased version and giving the audience a taste of the compilation.
Folklorist Robert “Mack” McCormick spent decades traveling through the American South researching Texas blues history—sometimes on assignment from the Smithsonian to find performers for the Folklife Festival. As a U.S. census taker, he knocked on many doors and always asked residents if they knew any blues musicians nearby. When he was led to one, he then inquired about the legendary blues musicians that he was interested in. He would ask about Texas Alexander, Funny Paper Smith, and Lead Belly, but no one more than Blind Lemon Jefferson. He wanted to know all about him and went about tracking down Lemon’s family.
In one interview with Lightnin’ Hopkins, who McCormick worked closely with and even managed for a while, McCormick had him play Jefferson songs he knew. One offering was a song Hopkins called “Blues Jumped a Rabbit.” It combines various Jefferson lyrics, including those from “Got the Blues,” “Rabbit Foot Blues,” and “Long Lonesome Blues.” Hopkins took “Blues Jumped a Rabbit,” changed it, and turned it into his own.
Jeff Place is the curator and senior archivist in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and the co-producer of Playing for the Man at the Door.